Zero-energy home begins with a flush of the toilet

October 1, 2008

By Jon Savelle

With the ceremonial flush of a high-efficiency toilet, construction began Sept. 29 on the zHome project — a cutting-edge housing development designed  to have the smallest possible impact on the environment.

Aaron Adelstein, executive director of the Built Green program of King and Snohomish counties, stands next to examples of two different toilets: a high-efficiency model and an average one. By Autumn Monahan, City of Issaquah.

Aaron Adelstein, executive director of the Built Green program of King and Snohomish counties, stands next to examples of two different toilets: a high-efficiency model and an average one. By Autumn Monahan, City of Issaquah.

The toilet demonstration was part of the official opening ceremonies of the zHome project, which relies on the best available technology and design to achieve its high efficiency. Representatives of all of the partners in the project were on hand to wish it well, including King County Executive Ron Sims, Mayor Ava Frisinger, Project Director Brad Liljequist, Puget Sound Energy Vice President for Energy Efficiency Services Cal Shirley, builder Doug Howland, Port Blakely Communities President Alan Boeker, and Aaron Adelstein, executive director of Built Green.

“This is how we are going to build them in the future,” Sims said.

He noted that population projections show another 1.1 million people living in the Puget Sound region by 2050, yet there is not enough power-generating capacity or water to serve them all.

“The issue will be how we build,” Sims said. “This is a great first step. In the long run, this kind of development will moderate the growth of utilities. I’m really glad somebody is finally doing it.”

Frisinger noted that the zHome is a “real-world model” intended to be replicable, and that its elements are likely to be found in upcoming housing projects by the YWCA and Habitat for Humanity.

“It is not an idea home or a spec home,” she said.

Two years in the making, the zHome already has put Issaquah on the “green” building map internationally. When finished, it is expected to become a focal point for sustainable design and construction.

The zHome will consist of 10 townhouses on a block just east of the Highlands transit center. It is designed to consume no more energy than it produces over the course of a year; have neutral carbon dioxide emissions over a year; make extensive use of recycled, reclaimed, reused or locally produced materials that have low toxicity; and aggressively capture and reuse rain and storm water.

The zHome units will achieve a “Built Green Five Star” certification by Howland Homes, which has extensive experience building three-star and four-star townhouses in the Seattle area.

At the event, Howland, president of Howland Homes, said the zHome is the next step the building industry must take.

“The best way to get this out of a boutique market is to invest up front and get this going,” he said. “It’s absolutely the right time.”

Even the weak housing market should not dampen the zHome, Howland said. The key is to produce the right design, with the right kinds of details, at the right price.

This view was echoed by Adelstein, who provided the toilet demonstration. He said the zHome is the first multiunit, zero-energy project in the country, and he believes many builders and buyers are looking for exactly its kind of housing.

Built Green is a program of the Master Builders Association of Seattle and King County, which employs a checklist and points system to rate projects according to how environmentally friendly they are. A two-star rating is the minimum, with successively more stringent requirements up the scale to five stars.

A primary objective of the zHome effort is to bring five-star performance to everyday residential construction. It is hoped that other builders, architects and engineers will learn from the zHome and incorporate its lessons into their own projects.

Completion of the zHome townhouses is expected in October 2009. They will be open to the public for three months, after which nine will be sold. Howland Homes will donate the last unit to a nonprofit organization, with the understanding that it will remain available for public education.

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Reach Reporter Jon Savelle at 392-6434, ext. 234, or

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2 Responses to “Zero-energy home begins with a flush of the toilet”

  1. on October 2nd, 2008 5:03 am

    This kind of project has my full support, the whole world needs to be educated in better building techniques that provide energy efficient homes. I think its fantastic that Howland homes are donating one of the properties to be used to educate others. Well done and Good Luck.

  2. Neil Stevenson on October 3rd, 2008 12:48 pm

    Good job! can’t wait to see ZHomes completion. Would love to do the same thing In Charleston, SC where I live!

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